Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, vowed to remain in the race, refusing to concede to Brian Kemp, her Republican component, despite a large deficit in the vote count.
"Democracy only works when we work for it, when we fight for it, when we demand it, and apparently today when we stand in line for hours to meet it at the ballot box," Abrams said in remarks to supporters at nearly 2 a.m. Wednesday. "I am here today to tell you there are votes remaining to be counted. Voices are waiting to be heard."
As of early Wednesday, Kemp led Abrams by about 3.1 percentage points, a difference of about 115,000 votes out of a total 3.75 million votes counted. That lead had narrowed by 5:15 a.m. to about 1.9 points and 75,000 votes out of 3.87 million counted. CBS News was characterizing the race as leaning Republican.
Before Abrams addressed the crowd, campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said thousands of absentee and provisional ballots remained to be tallied.
"We have three factors to be considered here: outstanding votes, absentee ballots to be counted, and provisional ballots," Groh-Wargo said. "Given those three issues, we believe this is likely heading to a runoff."
Abrams would be the first black female governor in the history of the U.S. and, not surprisingly, exit polls showed that race played a significant role in the election. Black voters comprised about 30 percent of the electorate and whites 60 percent -- figures similar to recent elections. Abrams won the bulk of black votes (92 percent) and Kemp was up big among white voters (74 percent).
While she was not the favorite of white voters, Abrams was nevertheless performing slightly better among whites than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, garnering 26 percent compared to Clinton's 21 percent. The difference was even starker among white, college educated women. This year, nearly half supported Abrams, compared to only about one-third for Clinton.
Although the electorate is Georgia is fairly conservative, only 40 percent said that Abrams is too liberal, with about half viewing her issue positions as neither too liberal or too conservative.
The race has been in some ways a referendum on President Trump and his policies, and a test of the diverse, progressive Democratic coalition that helped elect former President Barack Obama.
Abrams, the former minority leader of the state's House of Representatives, and Kemp, the current Georgia secretary of state, had been locked in a close race for months. The contest attracted national attention, as Mr. Obama and Oprah Winfrey campaigned with Abrams and Mr. Trump held a rally with Kemp. To make the rally, Kemp skipped a debate with Abrams.
Under Georgia election law, a candidate for governor must reach 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. As of early Wednesday, Kemp's share of the vote stood at 51 percent.
Democrats accuse Kemp, who is in charge of overseeing elections in the state, of disenfranchising voters. And in the lead-up to Election Day, Kemp's office leveled a vague accusation of "potential cyber crimes" at Georgia Democrats. Kemp did not provide evidence to back up the charge, however, and Democrats dismissed the move as an 11th-hour stunt.
Georgia has had a Republican governor since 2003, and the state has voted for the GOP in presidential elections since 1992. But political experts tend to believe that Georgia is likely to become more Democratic due to changing demographics, particularly in the Atlanta area.
Two visions for Georgia
The big question in Georgia is whether a progressive Democrat like Abrams can win in a state that's been so consistently Republican in recent decades. Georgia last elected a Democratic governor in 1998, and hasn't elected a Democratic U.S. Senator since 1996.
Abrams, a graduate of Yale Law School, gained a reputation as a pragmatic dealmaker during her tenure in the statehouse. But she's running as a tried-and-true liberal who favors gun control and abortion rights, which may prove to be a tough sell in much of Georgia.
Kemp, meanwhile, is running as a Republican in the Trump mold. "I've got a big truck," he bragged in one campaign ad during the GOP primary, "just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself."
In previous years, that contrast in messaging might have given Kemp a decisive edge. But the explosive growth of the diverse Atlanta metropolitan area in recent years, and Mr. Trump's low approval ratings among college-educated whites, point to a state that is quickly becoming competitive again.
Long lines to vote in Georgia; polls extended
Polls closed in Georgia at 7 p.m. ET. However, any voters in line to vote before 7 p.m. were still able to cast a ballot. Many polling places had long lines.
One voter in Gwinnett County, Ontaria Woods, waited more than three hours and said she saw about two dozen people who had come to vote leave because of the lines.
"We've been trying to tell them to wait, but people have children," Woods told the Associated Press. "People are getting hungry. People are tired."
A Superior Court judge ordered three polling places in Gwinnett County, in the Atlanta suburbs, to extend their hours due to earlier problems with the instructions on some provisional ballots. The longest extension kept the Annistown Precinct open until 9:25 p.m. ET.
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